Remembering Dave Zinkoff, the colorful voice of the 76ers
HE NEVER had a crossover move. Never hit a game-winning shot. Never dunked. Surely never shattered a backboard. But Dave Zinkoff was as much a part of 76ers lore as Allen Iverson, Julius Erving, Wilt Chamberlain and Darryl Dawkins.
The Zink was the public-address announcer for the Sixers from 1963 until his death in 1985, with the exception of the 1980-81 season. But it was who he was and how he announced that set him apart from the rest, that got him into the James Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (the only PA announcer so honored), that got his "microphone" retired, that caused the Celtics' Red Auerbach to call Zink the Sixers' sixth man.
"Certainly," said former Sixers general manager Pat Williams, "he was the most celebrated public-address announcer in American sports."
During a first-round game in the 1977 playoffs against the hated Boston Celtics, the Sixers had rallied to take the lead and Celtics coach Tom Heinsohn had called time. The crowd was in a frenzy. And if you remember the Spectrum, it could get as loud as any arena in the country. So Zink said, "Boston . . . "
The crowd was still loud and raucous reacting to the Celtics' calling time, so Zink waited out the noise . . . and waited . . . and waited some more. Just as the Celtics broke their huddle and headed back to the court, Zink, in his unmistakable voice, piped up, "In case you didn't hear, Celtics call tiiiiiiiiiiiime."
The crowd went bonkers again.
"He had a voice," said Williams, "that could transform the Spectrum into a magical palace."
Standing only 5-8, Zink had the vocal cords of a giant. He was Zink, a man with a style as unique as his calls.
He was the most imitated voice in Philadelphia. Those who grew up in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, at the mere mention of Zink, will break into a smile and then they'll give you their favorite Zink call. "Dipper dunk." "Thureeeeee for two." "Gola goal." "This . . . is the penalty shot." "Julius Errrrrrrrrving."
He was always on, always Zink. Ask him how he was doing and his answer was always "Nevah bettah."
"I worked the crowd," Zinkoff once said, "and from long experience, I can sense when the people are about to take a collective breath - and, wham! - I move right in."
Zinkoff, who grew up in West Philly and went to Central High, began working the crowd in the 1930s. While an undergraduate at Temple, Zinkoff earned $5 for a college boxing match. He graduated in 1932; in 1935, while accompanying the Owls to the inaugural Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, he was surprisingly asked to be the game's PA announcer.
Soon after, he forged a lifelong friendship with Eddie Gottlieb, who owned the Philadelphia Sphas, of the American Basketball League. Gottlieb, known as The Mogul, became a pro basketball giant. He owned the Philadelphia Warriors, would work up the complete NBA schedule by hand, and was influential in the emergence of the NBA as a stable league. He and Zink became inseparable, seen often hanging out at area Horn & Hardarts. But, at first, Zink was the worker and Gotty was the boss.
According to Harry Litwack, the Hall of Fame Temple coach and part of the Sphas circle, "[The Sphas] were playing our games at the old Broadwood Hotel [which later became the Philadelphia Athletic Club], and we were getting big crowds. One day, Zink came to Gotty and he told him that he thought he should get a raise. Gotty was paying him $5 a game; Zink wanted $6."
To Gotty, a 20 percent raise seemed a little steep.
According to Inquirer columnist Frank Dolson, Gotty shrieked, "You want a raise? On the strength of what?"
"Look at all the people coming to hear me announce," Zink replied.
Gotty always claimed that Zink would have gotten the raise if he had given a different answer.
"If he'd told me, 'I'm working hard; I deserve a raise,' he might've gotten something."
Gotty, according to Dolson, chortled as he retold the story in front of Zink. "But when he said he was drawing people, he didn't have a chance."
So Zink went on strike and the Sphas went on playing in front of big crowds.
"He held out for, I think, 2 weeks," Litwack said.
Gotty was right again and Zinkoff was back at the mike - for $5 a game.
But that relationship brought Zinkoff other jobs. He was the PA announcer for college games at the Palestra and Convention Hall, for Gotty's Warriors, for the Philadelphia Athletics, and he later traveled with the Harlem Globetrotters. Gotty was great friends with Abe Saperstein, owner of the Globies and a part owner of the Warriors, so when Saperstein needed an announcer, Zink was the easy choice.
There was only one bump in Zink's 50-year road. In 1980, the 76ers decided to "retire" Zinkoff; they were "entering a new era." There was an uproar. Lou Scheinfeld, who was the team president, took the brunt.
And one of the loudest voices of dissent came from the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan.
"Zinkoff and the Boston Garden are the only remaining reminders of professional basketball's roots," Ryan wrote, "and whereas the Garden has outlived its usefulness, Zinkoff hasn't. His voice is strong, and his mind is clear. His only crime appears to be that he was on the scene before Scheinfeld.
"The people in Philadelphia ought to give Scheinfeld twooooooo minutes to get out of town."
The retirement lasted a year. In his tenure as Sixers owner, Harold Katz made two great moves: one was bringing in Moses Malone; the other, in his first act as owner, was to bring back the Zink.
Zink's last game at the mike came on Nov. 13, 1985. When Zinkoff died on Christmas Day 1985, the one player who took the death the hardest was Erving. The two had become very close. It was Erving who delivered the eulogy 2 days later.
"I only knew him 9 years," Erving said. "I laughed with him. I cried with him. I shared secrets with him. I roomed with him . . . I asked his advice. I worked with him. I pleaded with him. I plotted with him. But most of all, I learned from him."
On a personal note, I was a student at Temple in 1982 and heard the noon featured speaker at the student center was going to be Zink. I knew of Zink's penchant for handing out kosher salamis, so soon as I took my seat, Zink asked if there were any questions. And I bellowed in what I thought was my best Zink impression, "Hey Zink, you got a kosher salami?"
"Who said that?" he fired back.
With that, he pulled out a Hebrew National kosher salami, frozen and wrapped in aluminum foil, from his briefcase. I enjoyed a few sandwiches from it, but I will always treasure the encounter - and the salami.